Orphic Moments
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In Review > North America

Orphic Moments

National Sawdust

In Review Orphic Moments hdl 416
Kiera Duffy and Anthony Roth Costanzo, Euridice and Orfeo, in Orphic Moments at National Sawdust
© Jill Steinberg 2016

ON MARCH 23, National Sawdust and Manhattan School of Music presented a compilation evening entitled Orphic Moments, curated and produced by countertenor (and MSM alumnus) Anthony Roth Costanzo. The production, by Doug Fitch, included three parts—Matthew Aucoin’s cantata Orphic Moments, conducted by the composer-librettist; Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice; and an “Orphic feast,” by chef Patrick Connolly. The feast divided the two musical numbers, which were fully costumed on a set that sat a few feet in the air above the orchestra pit and also involved projections, dancers and a chorus that sang from the entryway of the theater. If it sounds like a mishmash of a million parts, it was—and was also one of the most innovative, enjoyable evenings of musical theater I’ve experienced. 

By beginning with Aucoin’s cantata, for high voice, solo violin and chamber ensemble, the evening launched from a specific moment in the Orpheus myth—the point just before Orpheus turns around to see Eurydice, thereby losing her forever. The piece itself, divided into seven parts, is a great work of musical theater. Together and apart, the text and the music are sensual and evoke a dialogue between Orpheus (Costanzo) and Eurydice, played by the remarkable solo-violin playing of Keir GoGwilt and doubled by dancer Bobbi Jene Smith. Costanzo, who has an instrument of inexorable beauty, also embodied Aucoin’s perception of Orpheus as something of a narcissist who wants to lose Eurydice solely because laments make the most beautiful music; in part five, the violin that is Eurydice plays, and Orpheus joins without words: he is so obsessed with making music, he cannot even allow his wife to speak. Even in the moments when Orpheus is silent, the percussion section still echoes the heavy beat of Orpheus’s achingly beautiful suffering.

Costanzo’s voice is virtuously seamless, robust and ethereal throughout his range. His “Che farò senza Euridice,” in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, was ideally touching, as was his Orfeo, a much different character than the Orpheus he created in Aucoin’s Orphic Moment. Costanzo was well matched in attractive tone by the graceful Euridice of Kiera Duffy, a talented musician whose light soprano was clear and focused. At first, the idea of Duffy being mirrored by the dancer version of Euridice seemed unnecessary; as the piece drew to a close, however, the dancer provided a clever bridge between the two timeless stories of loss.

Soprano Jana McIntyre was a last-minute replacement for Amore, and given the circumstances, she fared well; if she had some trouble singing on pitch or sustaining lines at the opening-night performance, she still possessed the perfect temperament to be singing Italian repertory. McIntyre also had the most wonderful costume: she stood in the balcony with her neck rested on the bust of a naked cherub, and she flapped multicolored wings and batted her sparkly lashes with firm commitment to her character. In fact, each of the costumes, designed by Irina Kruzhilina, did an excellent job fitting into both the twenty-first and eighteenth-century worlds; Orpheus/Orfeo sported David Bowie-inspired textured pants and layered tunic, and Eurydice/Euridice’s loose dress sported the colors of a Van Gogh painting.

The MSM chorus was fantastic. For the orchestra, the MSM instrumentalists improved as the evening wore on and were more comfortable in the Gluck than in the modern music. This is no reflection on Aucoin, who is an excellent conductor. Gluck’s music felt at home under his emphatic baton. Aucoin had to do a fair amount of juggling at National Sawdust—where the orchestra was in front of him, the principals above him, the chorus to his far right and Amore above and on his far left—but he was able to elicit emotionally charged, dynamic performances from his singers and knew how to quickly balance the sounds of the green instrumentalists. His were some of the many efforts that contributed to this first-rate evening, something that could only have happened in Williamsburg. –Maria Mazzaro 

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